When the Evil Musk-rat took over at Bluebird towards the end of last year, and started to trash it in his incompetence, it reignited an argument I’ve been having with myself – for years now – about the value of a social media presence.
Social media for the aspiring traditionalist
There’s a lot to be said about social media, from many different sides. Right now I’m thinking specifically about its value to me as an emerging writer.
Here’s where I am after debating the topic with myself and others on and off for several years.
If one aspires to being traditionally published and is looking for a publisher or an agent, then convincing said publisher/agent that there is an existing potential market for your writing is valuable.
Yes, you need to actually have a solidly written novel or book of short stories. And, yes, you need to have researched your field and placed your book in its genre, among its peers. (Especially among its recently published, commercially viable peers.) Naturally, you will also have identified your target publisher/agent as someone open to the genre, topic and/or style of the book you’re writing.
All this is good groundwork. But if you can then point to a respectable volume of “followers”, “subscribers”, “friends” etc. on a social network, you will show that there is at least the seed of a market for your writing.
Social media for the self-publisher
For people who are not looking for a traditional publisher or agent, for people on the route to self-publication, to independent authorship, the argument for developing a social media presence is even stronger. What you want now are followers who are invested in you and your writing. People who are looking forward to your forthcoming novel and who will buy it and promote it to others. Your social media following is your sales and marketing strategy.
Bear this in mind: there are many, many books self-published every year and their reach is tiny. For every title that sells thousands there are thousands that sell hundreds or fewer. And there are more titles still that never sell more than a few copies to friends and sympathetic relatives. Or even that the authors buy themselves in order to give as gifts.
There’s nothing wrong with any of that. But if your vision of yourself is as a commercially successful fiction author, and you are self-publishing, it’s likely you will fix your eyes on the top echelon. The peak of the mountain that catches the first light.
How did those authors achieve success? Very often they exploited a social media base as the launchpad for their first few books.
Long before social media, for the whole of the 20th century and perhaps throughout publishing history, books by unknown authors have bombed. At the same time, books by famous people who were not authors have sold in their thousands. Scandalous memoirs by famous politicians, for example. Or cookbooks by actors. Children’s stories by singers. Some of these famous names, a few, if they turned out to be able writers, were able to capitalise on this initial success and create second careers for themselves as authors.
This is still true. Consider the bestseller lists. At the time of writing, the top of the New York Times bestseller lists are dominated by Michelle Obama and Colleen Hoover. An equivalent in Britain, Waterstones’ bestseller lists are dominated by Prince Harry and … Colleen Hoover. Two of these three people are not famous for being authors. (Indeed it’s an open secret that Prince Harry’s book was ghosted for him).
The development of social media has been a huge democratising opportunity for emerging authors. It goes some way to levelling the playing field with those famous names. Through social media, you too can become famous! But achieving that does seem to call for time and effort. Time and effort that your inner voice tells you might be better spent actually writing your book.
Colleen Hoover and Maryse Black
Creating and curating a social media presence is not an easy thing to do. Especially if it’s not something you are inclined to. It goes against the grain for the private person, the introvert, the writer who really wants to live in their own world of words.
Colleen Hoover’s career is interesting in this context . Before I checked the bestseller lists just now I’d never heard of her. Now I know she started out as a self-published author. Wikipedia says she self-published her first two novels – Slammed and a sequel, Point of Retreat – early in 2012. “After a few months, Slammed was reviewed and given 5 stars by book blogger Maryse Black, after which sales rapidly took off for Hoover’s first two books.”
There’s no suggestion in the Wikipedia article that Hoover’s success was down to her own social media presence. Rather it credits Maryse Black’s blog. Maryse’s Book Blog seems very active, with what looks like a publishing average of between 30 and 40 posts monthly. Her Facebook page has upwards of 44 thousand followers, her Twitter feed more than 11 thousand. Her Instagram feed is more modest with “only” 2300+ followers. And she has a YouTube channel, although it doesn’t look like she’s using it nowadays.
I can’t say what Coleen Hoover’s social media presence was like before Maryse Black helped her break through. I can tell you that now she’s active on Facebook and Instagram with 881,000 followers on the former and 1.9 million on the latter. She’s on Twitter too, with more than 180,000 followers, but hasn’t posted anything there since August 2022. And she has a website at colleenhoover.com.
I can almost hear hearts sinking with that last paragraph. Maybe it’s the sound of my own. Do you mean once I’m published I’ll still have to keep up my social media presence?
I don’t think I do. Occasionally I stumble over the remnants of an established author’s social media network. They often seem to have been abandoned once the author in question has broken through. It looks like, once an author has been taken up by an agent or a publisher, once they have established a presence in the publishing world, they can – if they choose – relax.
Sometimes, I suppose, the publisher or agent may do the job of interacting with fans on social media for them. Maybe even fans themselves will take on the job. If it’s no longer necessary for the writer to engage through social media, and if they don’t have a taste for it, there’s no reason to waste any more of their time on it. (Unless they are planning to continue to self-publish.)
Others authors clearly enjoy interacting on social media. I’m guessing Colleen Hoover is one of those. Her success has won her a publisher (Atria Books, a division of Simon and Schuster) and yet, she carries on.
Talking to myself
So where am I going with this?
I start the year with a modest presence on Instagram (129 followers) and rather more on Twitter (682). (That’s because, in the past, I used to be quite active on Twitter.) Say 800 in total.
I have an undeveloped Author account on Facebook, likewise on LinkedIn, plus a moribund YouTube channel. And, as noted last week, my website received 9881 visitors in 2022.
Let’s imagine I am going to emerge as a writer in 2023 or 2024. I don’t know if that will be in traditional publishing or self-publishing, though self-publishing seems more likely. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to develop an active social media presence to help that along?
OK, but only if I can have it feed back into my writing and my other creativity. If it’s an end in itself, I’m not interested.
How about the occasional blog post – like this one – about social media and establishing networks? That would count as feeding back, wouldn’t it?
And the target would be to double the number of my followers across all social networks, and double the number of visitors to my website in 2023. Respectively 1600 and let’s say 20,000.
That seems a reasonable goal, no?
Do you wonder how it will work out? Me too! Why not stick around and see.
All the illustrations are licensed under the Creative Commons 4.0 Licence and sourced, with grateful thanks, from TodayTesting.com.